Lessons Learned on Semester at Sea: What Study Abroad Taught Me

[shareaholic app=”share_buttons” id=”20872686″]

Throughout our four months on the M/V Explorer, I have heard various reasons why students chose to study abroad on this particular program: “I wanted to travel.” “I wanted to see the world.” “I’m graduating soon, and I wanted one last hurrah.” “I’m lost…I’m hoping to find myself.” I can’t say any particular one of these reasons prompted me to apply as staff—and as an almost-29 year old, I’d hope my motives were far different than those a decade my junior—and yet, here I am at the (literal) end of this amazing journey, back in America having (literally) circumnavigated the globe, and trying to dissect just what it is exactly that happened to all of us these past 111 days.

I have yet to put my finger on it, but this is what I know:

I learned patience. That’s always been my greatest flaw. I want what I want when I want it. I’m not exactly one to wait around and hope things come my way; rather, I seek them out myself. When you’re living on a floating campus in the middle of the ocean, resources are limited, and with 900 people’s feelings and needs to consider, you aren’t always the top priority (in fact, you hardly ever are). As you learn early on in your Semester at Sea days, “the ‘f’ word”—meaning flexibility—is key, as is chilling out when things go wrong (as they inevitably will).

I learned community. The sense of togetherness Semester at Sea fosters is simply something indescribable to everyone other than those who have been a part of the program, past of present. You alumni, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I learned teamwork. I was so blessed to be part of an office environment in which not only did we all get along, but in which each of us individually made for a greater whole. There is no feasible way a program with such intricate and complex details could function without such unity. The four others—Josh, Paula, Trina and Laurie—not to mention our six work study students and all the other fantastic colleagues with whom we shared the ship will be people I hold dear for the rest of my lifetime. (You all officially have been warned for when I show up on your doorsteps unannounced.)

I learned to step away from technology. It’s no big secret—and quickly becomes a running joke among the shipboard community each term—just how slow and unreliable the shipboard Internet is. (Plus, you have to pay for it, and time and bandwidth don’t come with a low price tag.) But, hey, guess what? It turns out I don’t need to check my e-mail every 0.17 seconds. Nor do I need to log onto Twitter every day, let alone every hour. I didn’t even have a phone for the past four months, and not only did I survive, but I loved that general sense of disconnect. And while my blog may have suffered (however marginally), there were always going to be sacrifices that had to be made in order to live out such a dream.

I found a new calling. While writing will always be my first and foremost passion, I cannot even express how much I loved being around the college crowd day in and day out. The best times I had on the entire voyage were when I was leading ISE trips full of fun, curious students. I played (almost) every intramural, participated in (almost) every shipboard activity, and spent my meals and evenings engaging with the “kids” for whom this program was created. Teaching was never anything that interested me, but after working for a university, I now understand there are so many more components to an academic program than being professor. I’m just saying, don’t be surprised if one day I combine writing with a career in higher education, more specifically programs abroad (Vanderbilt, are you reading this?).

I learned friendship. I’ve always been quick to make friends, but when you’re living side by side, sharing an office space, going to every meal, traveling in foreign countries, and also seeing and experiencing so much together—in both a cultural context, as well as mutual frustrations—alongside the very same people day in and day out, it takes friendship to a whole other level.

**********

There was a point in time—during our 20 straight nights on the ship over the long Pacific sail—when I was ready to be off the ship. (I blame cabin fever and the ever-present fog that settled in as we left Japan.) And now that it’s time to go, I can’t imagine a life in which the M/V Explorer and all of her entities are not a part of my daily happenings.

A very dear friend once told me that the people make the place. Such a statement could not be more accurate for Semester at Sea; interacting daily with such intelligent, motivated, bright and open-minded individuals was truly the chance of a lifetime and not something I will ever take for granted.

YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
COMMENTS
  • December 13, 2011

    I’ve worked on college campuses doing communications for 9 years now…not a bad gig! You could continue to work for UVa and move to Charlottesville, which is a super awesome town (I’m from there)… just sayin’! 🙂

    Anyway, welcome back to the good ol’ US of A!

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      I would love to do communications for ISE—remotely, though (which I don’t think is even an option). Nashville is our final stop, and after 14 moves in exactly 10 years, I’m not so keen on uprooting again…now or maybe even ever =)

  • December 13, 2011

    I cannot believe 4 months has passed, it feels like you just left.

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      It’s one of those odd instances where, for me, it doesn’t feel like time flew by—each day was so long, and we crammed so much in, that it felt more like a 24-hour period was a full week—but rather that I’ve been living on that ship my whole life. I’m already missing my floating digs!

  • December 13, 2011

    What a great experience you have and thanks for sharing with us! I probably will never get accepted to work there but will definitely put it on my radar for my kids (even though they are just in elementary school right now!). 🙂

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      You can start saving early for them, ha! If I ever were to have kids, I would definitely want them to do the program, too.

  • December 13, 2011

    I loved this. I recently started working on a college campus (again), and though my position doesn’t have a lot of student interaction I have been thinking about what I might be able to do in the future that does. College students do have a lot of passion and though I no longer identify with much of what they are going through, I remember going through it, and like remembering those years on the edge, when everything seems both very possible and totally impossible.

    Welcome home! Can’t wait to start seeing some photos of Nashville and Ella and the next adventure (even if it’s only setting in for the holidays!).

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      I would love a job that fused working with students and traveling/studying abroad. At one point Vanderbilt had a job opening in the programs abroad office writing and editing all of their media material, which would be perfect, but I might need a master’s in higher/international ed if ever I wanted to go that route. (And unlike most people, I have no desire to go back to school for yet another degree!)

  • December 13, 2011

    I followed your adventure through Twitter, Facebook & blog updates and despite lack of good Internet, you did an AMAZING job sharing your SAS experience. My husband, an alumnus, speaks so fondly of his time on the ship (this was before the M/V Explorer), but until I read your updates and saw your photos and read this wonderfully eloquent piece, I didn’t quite get it. Thanks so much for sharing! And if I have my way, my children — one way or another — will be on an SAS voyage some day. Either as dependent children or as college students. 🙂

    Thanks!

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      I actually did a Q&A with three of the dependent children (ages 9, 11 and 12) earlier this week with you in mind. I’ll run it after the holidays probably, as I still have at least two months worth of SAS material to post.

      I definitely hope you guys all can go as a family–you’d love it! (And thanks for all the kind words, as usual.)

  • December 13, 2011

    The point on friendship takes me back to boarding school and the strong bonds that were formed at the time – for better and for worse.

    Oh, and thanks for entertaining us with the travel updates in the midst of your busy schedule. I might have gone nuts if I’d had to wait four months for reading material. 🙂

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      My favorite books to read growing up were about girls who went to boarding school (or summer camp)–that lifestyle always seemed so glamorous to me, so I guess doing SAS is an adult is sort of making up for the fact that I never got to experience that when younger!

  • December 13, 2011

    Wow. What a heartfelt post about what you learned. I wouldn’t be surprised how many more people apply to the program based on your blog posts. I definitely see you getting into teaching (if you were ever forced to settle down!). It really does sound like such an amazing experience and through your pictures, I could sense the feeling of togetherness and fun that you had. That said, I’m excited to hear of your adventures in TN and the, ahem, Taylor Swift research that will happen upon your return.

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      Natalie, funny you should say that, as the first thing on TV when we checked into our hotel in Fort Lauderdale today was E! A Taylor Swift special (naturally, I had seen it many times before and might even have it recorded back home, but watched attentively anyway!).

      (And thank you for the nice words…I’d never really considered teaching before, but who ever knows, right?)

  • December 13, 2011

    I’ve very much enjoyed readying about this journey of yours! Welcome home!

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      Now I need to plan a trip to Knoxville to catch a Lady Vols game! Tomato Head? Downtown Grille? Sunspot? Meet you at all of the above? =)

  • December 13, 2011
    Amy

    You can totally go again as long as Andrew, Harry and I can accompany you. Because no Kristin for 4 months = no bueno. Welcome home! I can’t wait to see you NEXT MONTH!!!!!

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      Sure! We might have to sneak Harry on board, though. Ella, too, for that matter….

  • December 13, 2011

    Welcome back! As always, fab jumping shot. I love how random experiences can sometimes open new doors and uncover unknown interests. Looking forward to seeing where you go from here!

  • December 13, 2011

    This has been such an awesome experience to follow along. And really great that you’ve opened yourself to other career possibilities because of this. You’ll be writing about the experience for a while as you process more. Yet in the mean time, I’ll bet it feels good to be on home ground and soon to be enjoying family and holidays.

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      Well, actually, I’m the organizer of my class reunion, which is taking place–eek!–next week, so not a whole lot of rest for the weary. (Which is precisely why Scott and I are staying in Florida for two nights for a little R&R before rejoining the real world.)

  • December 13, 2011

    That went by fast! In addition to seeing all those cool places, you got a lot more out of this journey.

  • December 13, 2011
    Briel K.

    I’m glad you had such a wonderful time!

  • December 13, 2011
    Brandy

    Welcome back! I’m glad you had such a great trip – I think envy is my middle name right about now. I think working in higher education in the programs abroad office would be a pretty awesome gig. Good luck to you and Scott in getting settled in Nashville!

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      Thank you so much, Brandy! We’re excited to be back and start the next chapter of our lives in the South.

  • December 13, 2011

    Wow Kristin, it’s very interesting to hear your experiences, especially since I have a parallel life working on cruise ships. Hey, do you know if they hire non-US citizens for staff positions?

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      I read your follow-up comment, so I know you found the employment link, but yes, staff can be from anywhere (you just usually need a master’s degree for most positions). Staff are hired on a one-time contract of four months for a full voyage (or shorter contracts for the Maymesters and summer sails); crew, on the other hand, tend to work eight months at a time, then a two-month break before getting back on the ship for another period, and are hired by a recruitment agency, which I’m sure you’re used to in your current cruise ship jobs.

      (P.S. Now that I’m back and have had a taste of the ship life, I can’t wait to delve into your archives!)

  • December 13, 2011

    I LOVE this!! You have actually inspired me. I want to do what you did … we’re going to have to talk as they are accepting applications for 2012!! I love that photo, too. And, welcome “home” babe!!

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      I can’t believe they still have jobs open for 2012. Several months ago, they were already staffing for 2013! Yes, get on that, lady =) I was in the field office; with your travel background, you’d be great in that role.

  • December 13, 2011
    Mac

    This post was a perfect description of SAS and put me to tears remembering my time on the MV. Just so you know, it’s been almost two years since I’ve been on that ship, and I miss it every single day. So get used to the feeling of longing for the MV you have right now, it isn’t going away any time soon. That’s something nobody warned me about!

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      Were you on S10 with my sister, Kari, and her boyfriend, Richard? They talk about the lovely M/V Explorer regularly, so I know I won’t be forgetting her anytime soon (plus, I’ve already prepared my application for future voyages!).

      • December 14, 2011
        Mac

        Nope, I was summer 2010. It was actually one of my best friends from SAS who introduced me to your blog. I’m packing up now for the Spring 2012 voyage though, I couldn’t stay away either!

        • December 14, 2011
          Kristin

          That is fantastic! The Spring 2012 itinerary looks killer, particularly the Amazon sail. Have an amazing time and leave me a link if you keep a blog of your voyage!

          • December 16, 2011
            Mac

            I plan to use the (very elementary) blog I kept from my previous voyage (melissachristensen.wordpress.com). It’s been dormant since then because my life is definitely not exciting enough to post about regularly, hah! And by the way, I’m from Austin and go to the “other” UT. I love your two posts about the great city of Austin, Texas and the south in general :). I actually convinced some of my SAS friends to buy cowboy boots and a plane ticket and come to a country concert with me (which they loved). It’s a great place that I’m very sad to be leaving!

  • December 13, 2011
    Helen

    We too now have plans to apply as staff for a future trip – you never know, right ? So thanks for living the dream, capturing the magic, and sharing it so eloquently.

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      Why not? I think it’s an excellent idea!

  • December 13, 2011
    Helen

    PS – love the photo, captionned in my mind “free, just like a wavin’ flag”!

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      That song will be in my head for months to come!

  • December 13, 2011

    “Whenever we’re together, that’s my home.”

    Truer words have never been sung. I’ve lived in some pretty shit places, but they become wonderful when surrounded by wonderful people.

    Glad to have you back on land, pretty lady!

  • December 13, 2011

    I can’t believe it’s already over! It sounds like you had a truly amazing experience. Thank you for detailing it the entire way and good luck in Nashville!

  • December 13, 2011

    Thank you for sharing your adventure! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts and your photos brought all of the places to life. My older daughter is 15 and on the cusp of being able to travel on her own – I hope that she’ll consider a trip like this when she’s university age.

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      She could even go as a gap year student–a handful of the “kids” took the semester off between high school and college to do SAS before even starting school. I love that concept!

  • December 13, 2011
    Anu

    I think you’d be such a fantastic fit at a business school, Kristin, I feel like my alma mater would die to nab someone like you.

    Maybe I’m biased but I’d strongly recommend going to b-school, majoring in MO (management and organizations) and living life as a globe-trotting educational developer. It’s not just study abroad. Grad schools, especially b-schools (b/c they have the money, sad to say) are involved in so many international efforts these days-from setting up internships to study abroad programs to figuring out how to “internationalize” the student body.

    I currently attend the University of Michigan (Ross School of Business) at the MBA level and was a career switcher myself (used to be a lawyer, boo). If you ever want to talk, please feel free to reach out.

    Best,

    Anu

  • December 13, 2011

    I would have loved to be in such a program when I was that age. You know what I just learned from your post today?? That I’m almost a decade older than you! Argh! Anyway, back to the S.A.S. – I hope my kids will have an interest in participating in such a program…that means, I either have to save up now or take out a loan 15 years from now! LOL. Great post, K!

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      Well, knowing you, your kids will probably be geniuses and, thus, get scholarships, and you won’t have to pay a penny for them to go ’round the world! Isn’t that a great idea? =)

  • December 13, 2011

    Did my original comment go through?

    • December 13, 2011
      Kristin

      A lot of my legit comments go to my spam filter, so I go through it once a day and un-spam them all before empty the folder. Sorry about that–after getting so many hate comments in the past from people, I’ve had to set my filter to be overly aggressive =/

      • December 14, 2011

        I’m curious about all these hate comments. Who would leave hate comments on a travel blog? What about the art of travel are they so vehemently opposed to?

        • December 14, 2011
          Kristin

          I think when you travel for a living, you’re going to get a certain level of snark (or jealousy?) from people who just assume you come from a life of privilege. I started heavily blocking a handful of IP addresses from commenting, and by doing that, my site seems to block a lot of legit comments, as well.

  • December 13, 2011

    I enjoyed every second of your trip and am once again thankful for your amazing blog where you share your amazing travels. In another life I would do this trip in a second and glad I got to “virtually” experience it!

    • December 14, 2011
      Kristin

      Hopefully, it won’t be the last time I sail with SAS…but thank you for all the positive energy! You’re the best! =)

  • December 14, 2011

    Amazing photo, amazing lessons learned! I think you’ve inspired an army of new applicants!

  • December 14, 2011

    It´s over, what a great experience that has, without a doubt, left everlasting memories and a few life lessons. How will you cope with life on land again?

    • December 14, 2011
      Kristin

      Easy: try to get back on the M/V Explorer as quickly as possible! =)

      (Oh, and lots and lots of puppy cuddling. We have missed our furball more than anything!)

  • December 14, 2011

    You got your jumping photo!! And it looks great. I have really enjoyed reading all about your adventures. I would not want to do something like this – too long away from my family – but that’s what great about reading travel blogs. You can live vicariously! Thanks so much for sharing this fascinating trip.

    • December 15, 2011
      Kristin

      Thanks, Jan! Yes, the four months from our family–and by that, I mean our dog Ella!–was the hardest part of the whole experience! Can’t wait to be reunited with her tomorrow night!

  • December 14, 2011
    kat

    welcome back!! it all sounds amazing – i’ve loved reading along your adventures. and i could SO see you doing this full time gig of being with students and travel. when i studied in italy, the director of the program was an american who decided just to move to italy and still be affiliated with the school and run the study abroad program. not too shabby.

  • December 14, 2011
    Heather

    Ahh! Welcome home! So glad I got to re-live my SAS experience through you these last couple of months. Someone should start a Nashville SAS alumni group or something. There have to be more people around here who have sailed. Also… awhile back, Belmont had some jobs available in their study abroad office.

    • December 14, 2011
      Kristin

      Sadly, there was only one Tennessee student on the entire voyage, and she’s actually from Chicago (goes to Vandy)! But Scott and I plan to meet up with her frequently after we’re all settled, so you should join us, too =)

      I’m not quite ready to commit to applying for office jobs again just yet–it’s been so long! unless you count these past four months in a floating office–but Belmont would be a good option, too, when/if that day ever comes…

  • December 15, 2011

    As I learned recently, people TOTALLY make the place. I love this round up – what an amazing way to experience the world. Maybe one day we can hop aboard a ship like this and work it. It sounds amazing!

  • December 15, 2011

    Welcome home! What an absolutely incredible journey you’ve had. And, I could totally see you working at an university — you’re so charismatic, I think you’d be an amazing group leader at a study abroad office.

  • December 15, 2011

    the college crowd gives so much energy, I also just love it. I’ve looked for jobs as a Residence Hall Supervisor or International Student Office person…. but never came up with anything.

  • December 17, 2011

    Learning patience, alone, makes it all worth it!

    Glad that it turned out to be this profound of an experience. Curious to see the remainder of your posts and to see the twists and turns your career may take because of this experience.

    • December 18, 2011
      Kristin

      I still have about two months of blogging fodder left from the voyage, so much to come! And I’ll be as eager as anyone to figure out which direction my life is taking after all of this… =)

  • December 17, 2011

    Fabulous. what a gift to have your life shaken up so dramatically through travel and for such an extended period of time. Truly envious… in the good kind of way 🙂

  • December 22, 2011

    What an awesome story you get to carry around for the rest of your days. Sounds like fun, but being from Kansas, that much water makes me queasy.

    • December 24, 2011
      Kristin

      Keith, five months ago I would have said the same. I’m a big diver, but even every time I go out on a dive boat, I get ridiculously seasick and no amount of Dramamine, ginger pills or other medications have worked. Fittingly, I was really hesitant to go live on a ship for a spell, but luckily I got some of those medicated patches that go behind the ear from my doctor, and they were a saving grace.

  • December 24, 2011
    Abi

    Wow, I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed! It seems as though it was only the other day I saw your update on Facebook when you were getting ready to go! Welcome back – and very interesting to find out how it’s changed you. Teaching, eh?

    • December 24, 2011
      Kristin

      Haha, NO teaching for me. I simply don’t think I’d have the patience for it! That’s never something that’s appealed to me as a career path, but I do think working for a study abroad program at a university would be a really fun career and fuse my interests—travel, promoting travel and writing.

  • December 25, 2011
    Sameena Jaleel

    Hey Kristin, welcome back.
    I am saving money to travel this summer. I want to travel Europe, I am going with a few friends as well, but my budget is going to be tight, how can I make my trip to Europe worthwhile and not be stressed about money while I am there. So in other words, how can I travel Europe on a (mostly) less than shoestring budget?

    Thanks,

    Sameena

  • December 26, 2011

    What an extraordinary experience that seemed to go by in a blink of an eye! I feel like just yesterday you set sail!!! I can’t wait to see where this new calling takes you!

  • December 27, 2011

    How time flies! And what amazing adventures you’ve had this year. SAS seems like something a lot of us here wished we’d done when we were younger. Been following your updates and you fully captured what it feels like to be part of that program. Here’s to an even more exciting 2012 for you!

  • December 28, 2011

    The lessons you learned on the ship remind me so much of what I’ve learned in the Army. Friendship and patience chief among those lessons, for sure.

Leave a Comment

GET MY POSTS DELIVERED DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX
+ Sign up and receive your free copy of my eBook